Share
February 15, 2016 2:15 AM, EST

R.I. Gov. Signs Truck-Toll Plan; Industry Threatens Legal Action

This story appears in the Feb. 15 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Rhode Island Senate took less than three hours Feb. 11 to approve Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal, which includes truck-only tolls, one day after the House of Representatives debated the issue seven hours before signing off on the measure.

After the 25-12 vote in the Senate and the 52-21 vote in the House, the legislation went to Raimondo, who wasted little time in signing it.

Under the plan, trucks would pay $3 for each of 14 tollbooths, with a maximum fee of $20 a day.

“We are here now . . . to get Rhode Island’s roads and bridges repaired, rebuilt and maintained for the long haul, so we don’t have to keep patching the problem,” Rep. Raymond Gallison said in introducing the bill in the House.

Under Raimondo’s plan, Rhode Island would borrow $300 million against money coming to the state from the federal FAST Act, refinance previous loans for another $120 million and gain $45 million a year through 14 truck-only tolls.

“While the passage of RhodeWorks is a setback to our campaign, our opposition is far from over,” said Rhode Island Trucking Association CEO Chris Maxwell, who has threatened to try to block the plan in court.

“RhodeWorks faces a multitude of legal and regulatory challenges that we are confident will seal its fate,” he said. “Ultimately, if it does someday come to fruition, and we believe it will not, the trucking industry will be the ultimate jury when it exercises its right of free travel and diversion around Rhode Island and off Rhode Island’s highways and interstates.”

Trucks bedecked with “No Tolls” signs continually circled the State House and honked their horns before the debate on the House floor.

“This day will live in Rhode Island infamy,” Republican Rep. Antonio Giarrusso declared.

Nine Democrats voted against their governor’s plan along with all 11 Republicans and one independent. Opponents had tried to amend the bill to require voters to approve RhodeWorks, limit the number of tolling gantries and cap the annual toll maximum at $1,000. House Minority Leader Brian Newberry also failed to gain approval for a package of incentives that would mitigate the costs to local trucking companies.

Maxwell’s organization likely will have the backing of American Trucking Associations in its legal challenge to RhodeWorks.

“ATA is disappointed that Rhode Island chose to address its serious infrastructure needs with a truck-only toll scheme that is unrealistic, unfair and unlawful,” acting General Counsel Rich Pianka said.

“The scheme was sold on revenue assumptions that will never materialize. Its burden falls solely on the back of trucking but will ultimately hurt Rhode Island businesses and consumers by making it costlier for trucks to deliver their goods,” he said, “and the scheme is structured specifically to burden interstate commerce for the benefit of local interests — exactly the kind of discrimination against interstate commerce that the U.S. Constitution forbids states from engaging in.”